“By [some] other means”: Talking (about) Racism and Race through Visual Arts in Claudia Rankine’s Citizen. An American Lyric

Authors

DOI:

https://doi.org/10.18778/2083-2931.10.21

Keywords:

African American poetry, Claudia Rankine, racism, race, visual arts

Abstract

Claudia Rankine’s Citizen. An American Lyric is a perplexing work of literature both because of its original presentation of the issue of racism in the US today and the original formal ways through which its message is communicated. It is formally innovative and technically experimental in an unusual “average reader”-friendly manner, situating itself a world apart from postmodern “poetics of interruption and illegibility” (Davidson 602). Paradoxically, being almost a poem with a purpose, it expands existing categories. Its sociological orientation and emphasis on poetic language’s capacity to inform, instruct, emotionally move and morally engage the reader goes together with activating more experimental formal strategies, as it merges a variety of media: there are examples of spectacular instances of racism, represented by the photographs, and in a series of scripts for Situation videos made by the author in collaboration with her husband John Lucas. This article demonstrates how formal engagement with the visual arts may serve the purpose of stigmatizing racism and making poetry matter within the field of current public debate on important cultural, social and political problems discussed in historical contexts of racism-cum-race. The conceptualization of the issues discussed here is based on the notion of “seeing through race” (introduced into the field of study of the visual arts and literature by W. J. T. Mitchell in 2012), which has changed the perception of the relationship between race and racism.

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Author Biography

Jerzy Kamionowski, University of Bialystok

Jerzy Kamionowski is Associate Professor at the University of Bialystok. He is the author of From the House of the Slave to the Home of the Brave (2019) on the motif of home in poetry by black women since the late 1960s; Głosy z “dzikiej strefy” (Voices from the “wild zone”) (2011) on poetry of three women writers of the Black Arts Movement: Nikki Giovanni, Sonia Sanchez, and Audre Lorde; and New Wine in Old Bottles: Angela Carter’s Fiction (2000). He has published articles on women and African American writers, and postmodernist novelists, often focusing on such issues as attitudes to literary and cultural tradition, the question of identity, and the ethical value of transgression. Recently he has taken interest in post-BAM poets, the relationship between black poetry and visual arts, and literary representations of the Middle Passage.

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Published

2020-11-24

How to Cite

Kamionowski, J. (2020). “By [some] other means”: Talking (about) Racism and Race through Visual Arts in Claudia Rankine’s Citizen. An American Lyric. Text Matters: A Journal of Literature, Theory and Culture, (10), 392-407. https://doi.org/10.18778/2083-2931.10.21